Disclaimer: I do not own anything involving Once Upon a Time. Everything belongs to ABC.
A/N: Some of you may be reading my story "Sunshine and Rain." Since I'm planning to wrap up that story this year, I wanted to write another Golden Swan story. I've been trying to come up with an idea for one for a while, with no luck. Then this idea hit me the other night. I'm not sure if it's good or not, but I have brain-stormed tons of ideas for it since then and I'm curious to see where it will lead me. I'd be honored if there are readers out there who want to take that journey with me. It's a simple concept, in my opinion, but I hope to make it interesting.
With that being said, enjoy the new story. I also want to make a small note: the events of this story start after Season One, episode 4, "Price of Gold." Yeah, I wanted to return to the earlier roots of the show for this one.
It's Only Breakfast, Dearie
Emma never felt as much of an outsider in Storybrooke as she did whenever she walked into Granny's Diner in the morning.
It was nothing short of a madhouse. Every citizen of the town, young and old, seemed to flock there before eight o' clock, which only served as a bitter reminder that she was the ugly duckling in their midst. She sensed countless eyes boring into her back as she made her way around the occupied tables to an empty booth in the corner. Her only hope was that being in such a secluded spot would be enough to divert their attention, but she wasn't about to hold her breath.
When was the last time this town had something new to chew on? Even the headlines in the local newspaper, The Daily Mirror, were dull beyond belief. The story of a fourth grade spelling bee made the front page.
She was surprised her face wasn't plastered all over the front page for weeks to come.
It was so much easier to avoid the curious stares and speculative whispers when Henry was with her and cheerfully distracting her with his fairy tales. She didn't buy his theory about the curse, but she didn't feel right about raining on his parade, either. The only reason he wasn't sewn to her hip at the moment was because she insisted that he go to school. He wasn't above skipping school just to spend more time with her and, as much as she appreciated his warm attitude, she didn't want to be a bad influence on him. So she sent him to school. She even stuck around at the bus stop to make sure he boarded that bus. She was too familiar with shady behavior and mind games to believe that he would get on that bus if she simply walked away. If anything, he'd pop up in her back seat again.
She wondered if the mayor would be pleased by the fact that she was sincerely concerned about his well-being and education instead of stealing all his time away. Probably not. That woman was downright frigid.
"Hello? Earth to Emma!"
A sharp knocking of knuckles on the tabletop jarred her from her disconcerting thoughts. She blinked rapidly and turned her head to see Ruby standing there, clad in extra-tight, extra-short red shorts with a hand poised on her hip. The purse of her cherry lips, glossy and red as a Tootsie Roll pop, warned Emma that she was slightly annoyed.
"What do you want?"
Ruby dragged out each word and Emma got the sinking feeling that this wasn't the first time the waitress tossed the question her way. Whoops.
What do I want? Emma tried not to make too much of a show of scanning the menu. Her eyes widened as she glimpsed the column of prices. It never ceased to amaze her that the food here ran so high in price. It certainly wasn't McDonald's. Let's see...I want Henry to let go of his cra-uh, wild theory about fairy tales before it does him more harm than good. I want the mayor to get off my back and to quit the apple cider she's been gulping down. I want to somehow get out of owing Gold a favor...
Since none of those requests were likely to be fulfilled in the next five minutes, Emma decided to settle for...
"A hot chocolate with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. Oh, and a basket of fries." Ruby had begun to nod as she programmed Emma's order into her brain, but then she paused with a concerned tilt of her head. She scrutinized her as if she just sputtered Gibberish.
"Fries? This early in the morning?"
Emma frowned irritably. Her stomach grumbled, craving the crispy, greasy food. While surviving on the streets as a teenager, she had learned to stomach all sorts of less-than-gourmet foods in the morning because she never knew where her next meal was going to come from. Fries weren't the worst possible choice.
"If that guy-" She pointed her finger accusingly at a booth that contained a sandy-haired doctor, who was currently wolfing down several strips of bacon slathered in grease. "-can chow down on enough bacon for an entire orphanage without anyone batting an eye, I doubt a basket of fries would be too startling."
Ruby followed her finger and her nose twitched in disgust as she observed the way the doctor barely stopped to wipe the grease from his lips before moving on to the next piece of food. If that argument didn't work, Emma was going to point out the short, bald guy at the bar who was one drink away from belting out karaoke on top of it. The guy she happened to meet in Storybrooke jail.
"Fair point. Whale has an enormous appetite. Believe me, it isn't limited to food."
And as Ruby sped away to fill her order, Whale instinctively glanced up from his plate, as if he somehow knew his name had been included in their conversation. His cold blue eyes landed on Ruby's rear end as she passed by his table. Emma made a mental note to steer clear of that guy or else be held accountable for punching a doctor in the future.
She exhaled deeply, her shoulders slumping forward, and returned her attention to the world beyond the window. A breeze shrieked past the sheet of glass. There were very few cars moving on the street, though there were plenty parked. Being such a small town, she figured most people opted to walk to their destination.
The door of the diner blew open and the golden bell on top chimed loudly. The shrill sound of the bell only lasted for a split second, but in that short time, a mere heartbeat, Emma noticed a dramatic change come over the entire diner. The excited chatter, which had been a roaring buzz in her ear, instantly died down to a faint whisper. Forks that previously scraped up bits of food halted halfway to gaping mouths. Heads drooped, eyes lowered. Even the sun seemed to hide behind the clouds outside the diner, leaving it to the shade.
They treat him like he's Scrooge's long-lost brother, Emma thought as she watched the lean, elegantly-suited figure of Storybrooke's pawnbroker stroll through the door.
Oh, yes, strolled was the right word. Each step looked to be carefully planned, his hips swung with ease, and even with a cane and a limp he retained some degree of grace. The man wore power like a second skin or favorable brand of cologne. As his intelligent brown eyes roamed over the patrons of the diner, with the precision of a vulture selecting its next victim, it was clear he was well aware of the effect he had on the townspeople-and he didn't give a damn. No, that wasn't quite right. He seemed to encourage it with the occasional grimace or leer at anyone who was caught looking. Emma was capable of recognizing the look of someone that wanted to be left alone, someone who courted misery at every turn, but she thought he was purposely working to ensure it.
Emma was the only one whose head was still raised. She never appreciated being intimidated by anyone. If anything, intimidation made her more defiant.
She stretched her legs until her boots rested on the opposite seat, ankles crossed. Leaning back, she shoved her hands in the pockets of her worn red leather jacket and dared to look. It wasn't an intimate look-her eyes roved over his figure without paying attention too long to any specific area-but it was a look. If there was a town memo about playing dead around Gold, she must have missed it.
Gold wandered to the bar where he ordered a cup of Granny's coffee. It may be higher in price than Emma expected, but it was miles better than the sludge that poured out of the broken machine in the hospital.
Ruby nodded stiffly and chewed on the inside of her cheek as she took his order. Go away radiated from her in thick waves; Emma was hit with it even though she was halfway across the diner. As far as she knew, Gold was the only walking, talking, breathing male organism in this town that Ruby hadn't attempted to flirt with or seduce. She wondered if that was because Gold was resistant to her womanly charms or if Ruby was afraid to try in case he wasn't.
In less than five minutes, Gold had his cup of coffee in hand. He sipped it gingerly and handed over the appropriate payment in the form of a slim piece of plastic. No rattling change on that man. Ruby forced a tight smile and even got up the nerve to wish him a good day, but Emma had a feeling she wanted to personally propel Gold out the door. With an acknowledging dip of the head, he turned to leave-
-and caught her looking.
Right in the center of the diner, he stopped and returned her stare. Unlike with the other townspeople, whom he had pinned under his thumb, the corner of his lips rose in a sly smirk. His lips parted just enough for the light to bounce off his gold tooth. There was a change of plans; she could read it plainly in his eyes before he even made the first move in her direction.
Whenever the subject of conversation happened to turn to Gold among the townspeople, Emma sometimes overheard them talk about that shiver of fear they got when he was near, as if Death were breathing down the nape of their necks. Men were reduced to vulnerable children, their bellies tingling with restless butterflies. Women felt their hearts race for the wrong reason.
Emma felt none of it. More than ever, as Gold drew closer and closer with each step, she realized how much she did not fear him. She was intrigued, not afraid. Gold was a challenge to her, a tricky puzzle that demanded solving, a mystery that needed unraveling.
"Fancy meeting you here, Miss Swan," he drawled, tipping his cup of coffee toward her in mock salute. The way he said her name was smooth and slow, as though he truly loved the taste of it on his tongue. The Scottish accent added an extra layer of velvet.
"Mr. Gold," she returned just as calmly. His eyebrow perked up at her casual, confident tone. It was something the other people in this town severely lacked. The tip of his tongue traced his upper lip and she imagined he was lapping it up.
"Still not afraid of me?" He spread his arms out so she could take a good, hard look. If she didn't know any better, she'd say he was deliberately posing for her.
"Give me a reason to be," she shot back. If he was taken aback by her boldness, nothing in his face revealed it. He was, after all, the one that chalked her lack of fear up to being cocky. Of course, he also claimed he liked it. Liked her.
"I assumed I had already." She rolled her green eyes to the diner's cracked ceiling.
"What? The fact that you have your hands in everything? So does the mayor and I'm not afraid of her, either." She hoped the mention of the mayor did not beckon her into the diner. Speak of the devil and she shall appear. Emma didn't have the patience to deal with both Gold and Regina Mills in one cramped space.
"An admirable quality," Gold praised her. His eyes shone with respect for her. He apparently didn't hold Madame Mayor in high regard, either. "Something else you and I have in common." Emma wondered if he was keeping a list in his shop.
"Go figure," she murmured under her breath. She noticed him take a careful step closer to the unoccupied seat across from her. She was acutely aware of every pair of eyes in the diner settling on them, awarding them the spotlight though she did not want it.
"Is this seat taken?" He gestured his cup of coffee to the seat that currently had her boots on it. She sat up straighter and dropped one of her feet to the ground. Even sliding into a booth looked graceful when Gold did it. "Sorry, dear. Need room for my cane." He patted the boot that was still propped on the seat and she dropped it. The cane leaned against the seat, the gold handle exquisitely polished and glinting in the wisp of sunlight that passed through the window.
The whispers started up again, but the excited chattering had yet to return to full force. Emma had a bad feeling that the news of her conversation with Gold-held in the same booth-would go around the town like wildfire. Ruby stopped by their table to deliver Emma's basket of fries and hot chocolate. Before she left, she angled her body toward Emma and disapprovingly rolled her eyes in Gold's direction.
Unfortunately for her, Gold never missed much.
"You know what they say, Ruby. Roll your eyes too frequently in the wrong manner and they'll be stuck that way." The color drained out of Ruby's cheeks. She turned a biting glare on Gold, her nostrils flaring. Thinking better of it, she held her tongue and turned away to attend to other, more polite customers. Gold's fingers wove mesmerizingly over the tabletop and he waited for her to take a few furious steps away. "Oh, and Ruby. One more thing. My appetite has suddenly spiked. If it's not too much trouble, I'd very much care for a fresh doughnut. Preferably one that contains sprinkles."
Ruby paused, but she did not turn around. Her shoulders quivered. Emma guessed she was trying to figure out how to swallow her tongue before she fired off a remark that made her life and Granny's more miserable than it already was. She could tell Gold enjoyed the rise he was getting out of her.
"No problem," Ruby barked and stormed off. Gold could not contain his chuckle. Emma felt sorry for the girl. She was simply another person victimized by the most powerful man in town.
"You do realize Ruby is possibly two steps away from splashing that hot coffee in your face and all over that dashing suit of yours," Emma said.
"You think my suit is dashing." He smoothed a hand over his crimson silk dress shirt, stopping just above the spot where his heart should be. Emma ignored his attempt to bait her. "Ruby would not be foolish enough to do anything of the sort. If she did, she knows I would return the favor by raising Granny's monthly rent. They're barely making ends meet as it is."
Emma gave a derisive snort. The man kept taking her by surprise at every turn. His eyebrows rose.
"You don't think I would?"
"I know you would. That's the problem." She leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. While gathering her throughts, she dumped almost half a bottle of ketchup over her fries and popped one in her mouth. Gold leaned back in his seat and she suspected it was because he was worried about getting ketchup on his shirt by accident. "You know what I think? I think you want the people of this town to hate you, to fear you, and most importantly...to avoid you."
Gold's face remained a perfectly controlled blank slate, but she sensed a storm brewing beneath the surface. For one thing, he finally broke away from her gaze, dropping his eyes to the tabletop instead. He hadn't stopped studying her once since their eyes first locked. The smirk dried up on his lips, crumbling away.
"Why would any reasonable man do that?" Emma waved a fry toward his chest. He held up his hand to use as a shield in case any stray drops of ketchup went flying.
"You tell me. Maybe you think it's what you deserve. Supposedly you're the town's monster, so you assume the role and act like it."
This time, he didn't offer up any clever response. He didn't say anything at all. His eyes took on a glazed look, as if his mind had been transported to some faint memory in the past, somewhere she could not reach. Maybe she had pushed a bit too hard.
"I'm guessing the only reason you chose to sit with me is because everyone else in this diner would drop dead of a heart attack if you invited yourself to breakfast. Except Granny."
Emma glanced over at the old woman behind the bar, who was sternly watching them over the rims of her glasses. The way her knuckles folded and unfolded suggested she would be happy to give Gold a special kind of sandwich if he tried anything funny. Emma switched her attention back to Gold and found him looking back at her again, his brown eyes calculating and focused once more.
"You are quite the ray of sunshine in the morning, Miss Swan." She didn't detect any abundance of sarcasm, but everything Gold said had an underlying meaning. She took a generous mouthful of hot chocolate while contemplating how best to handle him. Whenever she held a conversation with him, it felt like they were playing a fierce game of chess.
"What do you want?" Gold feigned ignorance, his head slightly cocked to the side.
"Who says I want anything? Besides the usual cup of coffee," he stated with a lift of his coffee mug, "and the pleasure of your company, of course." Emma didn't exactly feel honored.
"Because I know the kind of man you are." It was something she vowed never to forget when she was around Gold. Forgetting about the kind of man he was would only lead to her being caught in his net. It surprised her when he chuckled again.
"Really, dear? On the contrary. I don't think you know the first thing about the kind of man I am." If it was meant to be a challenge, Emma finally bit the line. She fought for control of the conversation, but knew she was losing. It was difficult not to be led in such a manner when the person sitting opposite her was so skilled with words.
"I know you're the most powerful man in town and that you have a habit of reminding everyone of it every chance you get. I know you like to make deals, ones that aren't always clean. You barter for newborn babies and haggle for favors. You're a smooth talker, a gentleman when you want to be, and manipulative enough to make a nun swear. Need I go on?"
Throughout her spiel, his grin grew wider and wider. It honestly reminded her of the Grinch in the classic Christmas cartoon. Yet for every bullseye that she managed to hit, she felt there were more darts to be thrown. She just couldn't find the target.
"Is that all? For all those discoveries, I'm willing to bet you have twice as many questions." He brought his coffee mug to his smug lips and waved his hand toward her, granting her permission to fire away. Emma's curiosity was much too powerful to resist such an opportunity.
"How exactly did you come to be the most powerful man in town? So powerful that even the mayor seems wary of you? And why go through all the trouble of trying to take Ashley's baby just to settle for a favor from me? What are you planning to do with it? 'Cause I swear, if you think for a second that I'm going to do something to...please you..."
Emma couldn't finish that thought, at least not out loud. She motioned her fry to the tabletop and everything hidden underneath it. A drop of ketchup dripped from her fry onto the table. Gold actually looked offended by the accusation.
"There's another detail you've forgotten already, Miss Swan. I may be the most feared man in town, but you said it yourself. I am capable of behaving like a gentleman. I would not force you into a situation that you are morally and emotionally uncomfortable with. You have my word on that."
Emma was out of ideas. She had no clue what he planned to do with her favor and the promise of his respect as a gentleman did not change the fact that she wanted it off her shoulders. She slumped back in her seat, defeated.
"Then, what?" Gold's eyes glimmered.
"A curious thing, aren't you? I can see where your boy gets it." It was true. Anyone who knew Henry for more than ten minutes knew he was curious in nature. There wasn't a single day that passed where he didn't ask questions of some sort. It warmed Emma's heart a little to have that connection with the kid. Gold set down his cup of coffee and extended his hand over the table. "Care to make another deal?"
It was on the tip of Emma's tongue to refuse. She should have said no outright-she already owed him one favor. What could he possibly do with two? That was the issue: she didn't know what he wanted. Yet.
"Depends on the terms." Gold's teeth flashed from beneath his lips.
"Smart woman. I admire that," he said. "Allow me to keep you company over breakfast indefinitely and in return I will allow you to ask three of your burning questions each time. Before you ask, yes, Emma, that is all there is to it. Now...do we have a deal?"
Emma regarded his hand skeptically.
"Any three questions? No holding back on me?" She had to make sure he wasn't about to slip through a loophole.
"Any three questions your heart feels content to ask. You have my word that I will answer openly and honestly. I always keep my promises, Em-ma." Her name fell from his lips slowly and playfully. It wrapped around her brain like caramel. Her eyes flicked from his face to his hand.
It was only breakfast.
And she was curious about this man whom everyone in town feared.
"Deal." She stretched her hand forward and clasped his hand, sealing the deal. His hand was shockingly warm and soft. She suddenly got another sharp insight into Gold: he definitely used those little bottles of lotion to keep his hands so tender. Gold grinned like a cat who'd been given the cream.
"Splendid. Our first breakfast will be on me."
His hand hovered over her basket of fries drowning in ketchup. Finally, Ruby got around to bringing his sprinkled doughnut and he took an eager bite out of it, dabbing his lips with a napkin afterwards. She snatched up another fry.
"By the way, Emma..." She paused just as she was about to shove the fry in her mouth. "You have whipped cream on your nose."
Not sure how I feel about the title yet. I may change it if I come up with something that suits it better. What do you guys think?